My name is Raina, and I’ve got a wicked case of social anxiety.
A lot of people are surprised to hear me say that. Understandable. When I’m comfortable, I’m a good time. I will talk to almost anyone. I joke around. I dance like everybody’s watching. Hell, I’m the Prom Queen of my comfort zone. And that’s what most of my friends see. But take me to a party where I only know one other person, especially if that one person is the host of the party? Dear Lord. I’m so uncomfortable that I want to set myself on fire just so that I have an excuse to leave.
There are few things I hate more than going to big social events. I feel lost and awkward. I don’t know what to do with myself, so I end up kind of standing off to the side with my arms crossed (my arms are bizarrely long, I don’t know what else to do with them). That, paired with my resting bitch face, make me look like an aloof asshole who thinks she’s too cool to be there. And because I know (assume) that’s what people are thinking, I feel all the more self-conscious and nervous. So I keep on not talking to people and standing there with my arms crossed. More often than not, I’m that random, weird girl at a party or event who is hanging out with the food and not talking to anyone.
As I embark on my post-retirement career path (don’t worry, we’ll get there soon enough), I know I have to work on this. I have to. Networking is part of the game. And I can hate it all I want, but it’s a necessary evil. So I have been making a concerted effort to violently shove myself out of my comfort zone (my apartment).
This past holiday season, I received an invite to a party at the home of a friend of a friend. Despite all of my knee jerk reactions to not go, I threw on a party dress and went. And it was just as uncomfortable as I expected. As is usually the case in the situations, I drifted around aimlessly, feeling awkward and not really knowing what to do with myself. Though I wanted to skin myself alive, I forced myself to solider through. And by “solider through,” I mean I hung out by the snacks and made small talk about the tomato pie with anyone who came by.
At one point, I wandered into the kitchen, which was empty with the exception of one young man. He was dressed in a snappy grey suit, complete with bow tie and matching pocket square. In a sea of dudes who thought jeans and sweaters qualified as dress-up attire, he stood out as a good sport. I introduced myself (because it would have been more awkward of me not to) and we quickly ended up in small talk.
“So, who do you know here?” I asked.
We concluded that we each only knew a couple of people at the party. I confessed that being at parties where I don’t know many people is my waking nightmare. He told me how surprising that was to hear, that I’m so great, and that my dress was so great. I thanked him for his compliments and made some self-deprecating jokes, which just fired him up even more.
“Oh my God, you are hilarious! I love you; you are so great. You are KILLIN’ IT!”
I guess I got carried away with all of the flattery and lost my head for a moment because I heard myself say in response to another string of compliments:
“I love you! You’re like my tiny, little guardian angel.”
Now is a good time to point out that my new friend wasn’t a tall man. In fact, he wasn’t much taller than me and, even in high heels, I max out at about 5’6”.
“Um. I don’t…,” he said while shaking his head and making a face that demonstrated quite clearly how he felt about the thing I’d just said. He wasn’t a fan.
“Oh, man. Uh, I’m sorry…I didn’t mean…um…I know how it sounded…but I…uh,” I said, trying to clarify what I meant. “I just meant that you’re so nice, I want to carry you around with me.”
WHY AM I STILL TALKING? I’m not saying anything of value or anything to rectify the situation, yet words keep coming out of my dumb mouth.
“Yeah, no. Hey, it’s fine. Yeah, no worries,” he said, unconvincingly.
Left alone with a stranger for five minutes and this is what happens. Hey, you know what? Turns out, adult men don’t like it when you call them “little.” And they sure as shit don’t want you throwing around the word “tiny” when referencing them in any way. But sure as shit I went for the two-fer: tiny, little. And “angel?” Angels are like fairies for all intents and purposes. So essentially, I called a man I had just met a tiny, little fairy. To his face. And the worst part? I thought I was being complimentary.
We (painfully and awkwardly) chatted for another couple of minutes. I back-peddled. He tried to shrug it off. We became Facebook friends. Fences were mended, and I figured there was no better time to get the hell out of there.
“…and on that note, I’m going to head out. You have a good night,” I said and scurried out of the room and down the stairs to get my coat so that I could go home. It was on my way to the coatroom that I ran into the party’s hostess.
“You can’t leave! I just put the baby to bed! Come on, you have to stay,” she pleaded.
Peer pressure’s a bitch. I took a walk of shame up the stairs and back into the party. And right back into conversation with the dude I just embarrassed myself in front of. Oof.
I hung in there for another 20 minutes before I ever-so-gracefully made my exit (read: called an Uber and fled into the night). I obsessed about what I’d said for the whole ride home and most of the next day, cringing as the words “tiny, little guardian angel” echoed in my head. Naturally. Because that’s what the socially anxious do. It’s a good time, you should try it (I’m kidding. Don’t try it. You won’t enjoy it.)
Clearly, I need a lot more practice. It’s a work in progress. As you’ll soon see, when I get nervous or uncomfortable (or have too much coffee), I can’t not verbalize every thought I have. Luckily, sometimes my thoughts are kind of funny. So stick around; things are about to get interesting.
* Photo credits: Jasmin Nahar / Buzzfeed